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The shape of things to come?

Flare saucepan

What happens when a rocket scientist applies his skills to cookware? You get a new saucepan that is up 40% more efficient than a conventional pan. The Flare cookware series, developed by Lakeland in conjunction with Dr. Thomas Povey of Oxford University, uses channels in the sides of the pan that allow more heat to enter the pan than a conventional, smooth-sided pan.

An avid mountaineer, Dr. Povey turned his talents to cookware design after struggling to boil water at altitude. He realized that a lot of energy is spent just heating the pan. "There's nothing wrong with (a usual saucepan), but it loses a lot of heat, which means it has less energy efficiency, which means it wastes more heat, energy, and gas," said Dr. Povey, who applied aerodynamic and heat transfer science "used in rocket and jet engines to create a shape of a pan that is more energy efficient."

The cast aluminum pan works most efficiently on gas cooktops, although it can be used on electric, ceramic and halogan hobs (but presumably not induction hobs).  As is the norm with innovation, these pans come at a premium price: the 20cm (8") saucepan clocks in at £49.99 ($86 USD; $91 AUD). 

What do you think of the new design - is it here to stay, or is it just a flash in the pan?

Are cupcakes dead?

Cupcakes

"The cupcake is dead." So says the tweet from Russ Parsons, food writer with the L.A. Times, with a link to an article that announces five foods that "could be the next cupcake." The post was in response to the news that Crumbs, a publicly-traded chain of cupcake shops, was closing all of its stores.  Other tweets echo the sentiment: "RIP cupcakes" laments Bread & Butter, and The Guardian US wondered if "the cupcake economy is crumbling." For those who hadn't heard of Crumbs, it was a bakeshop that helped create the cupcake craze at the beginning of the 2000s and grew to be one of the largest cupcake chains in the U.S. It went public three years ago, but with the cupcake craze waning, and with a lot more competition entering the fray, the company endured losses in each of the past three years. The death knell came on July 1, when the Nasdaq stock market suspended trading of its shares.

But all of the laments aside, does this really mean the end of cupcake shops? It does seem like the refrain of "cupcakes are dead" has gone on before. Back in 2011, a writer for NPR claimed that cupcakes were dead. (She thought pie would be the next cupcake.) Other cupcake shops seem to be holding on, at least for now. Some reports theorize that the reasons Crumbs went under were more or less the same reasons other businesses fail: expanding too fast and taking on too much debt, not because the cupcake trend has breathed its last breath.

Even if cupcakes couldn't support a publicly-traded national company doesn't mean the snack-size cakes are in danger of disappearing from bakeries. Portable cakes are just too convenient to go away. Plus, the last Crumbs cupcake is up to $250 on eBay - not too shabby for being dead.

Do you believe the cupcake trend is played out? What do you think will be "the next cupcake?"

Cheese lovers breathe a sigh of relief

Cheese aging

News feeds across the U.S. began buzzing when word came out that the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was moving to ban the aging of cheese on wooden boards. Wood has been the medium of choice for cheese aging for centuries, as the wood both helps to absorb excess moisture and hosts beneficial bacteria that create the surface mold essential to the flavor of many cheeses from Camembert to Raclette.

Cheese lovers, as well as artisanal cheese makers, were incensed by this news and bombarded the FDA with protests, prompting the FDA to issue a clarification. They state that they do not intend to ban wooden boards outright, but rather the agency will "engage with the artisanal cheese-making community to determine whether certain types of cheeses can safely be made by aging them on wooden shelving," according to the Forbes  article. If the FDA would move to ban aging on wood, it would affect not only domestic cheese products, but also imports from the EU and other countries.

Although banning wooden boards may sound like government bureaucracy at its worst, the FDA did not initiate any action against cheese makers. The statement regarding the use of wooden boards was made in response to a request for clarification from New York state regulators. According to the Washington Post article linked above, the brouhaha "dates to a 2012 FDA inspection of a small cheesemaker in upstate New York, during which was found the presence of listeria monocytogenes, a potentially harmful bacteria, on one of the boards used to age the company's Gouda-style cheese. After inspectors found evidence of listeria again in 2013, the FDA ordered the company to halt its sales until it developed a listeria-control program." Listeria can grow in the cold temperatures of a refrigerator, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that "approximately 1600 illnesses and 260 deaths due to listeriosis [caused by the listeria bacteria] occur annually in the United States."

This isn't the first time the FDA has rankled the artisan cheese community. The agency "struck a nerve last year when it began blocking imports of Mimolette, a Gouda-like cheese from France with a small but fervent following in the United States." An inspection of Mimolette found an unacceptable level of mites that live on the rinds of the cheese, and while the FDA did not issue an outright ban, Mimolette imports have all but stopped.

Cheese aficionados hope that the FDA can work with the cheese industry to promulgate rules that allow consumers to enjoy aged cheese without compromising the quality of the product.

Photo courtesy The Washington Post

2014 James Beard Foundation book award winners announced

JBF award winners

The James Beard Foundation announced the 2014 book award winners. Heston Blumenthal's Historic Heston, one of the tomes that didn't even make the IACP nominee list, won both its category (Cooking from a Professional Point of View) and Cookbook of the Year. Other books that didn't make the IACP nominee list but won their respective categories were Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop (International), Smoke: New Firewood Cooking (General Cooking) and A Work in Progress by René Redzepi (Photography).

One cookbook made a sweep of both IACP and JBF awards: The Art of French Pastry, in the Baking and Dessert category. Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy was nominated in both lists but won only the James Beard Foundation award.

In addition to the cookbook awards, the James Beard Foundation ushered Diana Kennedy into its Cookbook Hall of Fame. You can view the complete 2014 list of JBF nominees and winners here. As always, your thoughts on the selections are welcomed.

Get a taste of a top 50 restaurant at home

Best 50 Restaurants

The world's 50 best restaurants for 2014 were recently announced. The list, sponsored by global food and equipment purveyors, is a veritable 'who's who' of world chefs, although it is tilted toward the U.S. and Europe. Notably absent from the list are women (only two restaurants have women at the helm, and in both cases the women share top billing).

Topping the list is Noma, located in Copenhagen, Denmark and helmed by René Redzepi. Diners "are introduced to Noma's food via its inimitable series of 'snacks' - 10 servings that include the likes of sea urchin toast and caramelised milk and cod liver." The ambitious and innovative menu can be a shock to diners, but the dishes allegedly "make you feel glad to be alive."

Second place went to last year's winner, El Celler de Can Roca, which, despite its highbrow status, remains "at heart a local family-owned restaurant rooted in the fiercely independent state of Catalonia." Guests are treated to a 14-course culinary experience that involves Catalan ingredients cooked perfectly and frequently enhanced by cutting edge techniques. Some dishes "are elaborate, such as a salad of sea anemone, razor-clam, cucumber and seaweed in escabèche, others are more straightforward; but each is beautifully balanced."

At third place for the second year in a row is Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. The number four spot goes to Eleven Madison Park in New York, followed by Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. Dinner may be The Fat Duck's younger relative, but Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts has taken the restaurant to dazzling heights. Rounding out the top ten are Mugaritz in San Sebastián, Spain; D.O.M. in Sáo Paulo, Brazil; Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain; Alinea in Chicago, USA; and The Ledbury in London, UK.

Most of us aren't going to be able to dine at any of these stellar restaurants, but lucky for us, nine of the top 10 (and many more in the top 50) have given us a glimpse into what it might be like to dine there, or at least provide us an inkling of the chefs' inspiration, through their cookbooks. René Redzepi of Noma recently released the acclaimed A Work in Progress, and previously published Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine. The number two restaurant's driving force, Joan Roca, co-authored Sous-vide Cuisine and presumably was a major impetus behind El Celler de Can Roca. Massimo Bottura, of the number three Osteria Francescana, has penned Balsamic Vinegar and PRO. Attraverso traditione e innovazione.

Moving down the list, Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park co-wrote the restaurant's cookbook and I Love New York (recently nominated for several awards). Heston Blumenthal has graced us with several cookbooks, and Andoni Luis Aduriz of Mugaritz not only provides us with a cookbook named for the restaurant, but has penned other books as well. D.O.M. head Alex Atala wrote a book that celebrates the Brazilian ingredients that inspire his cooking. Juan Mari Arzak gives us Arzak, recetas in addition to other cookbooks, and Grant Achatz provides us with inspiration through Alinea.

Which restaurant/chef cookbook most inspires you, and which of the top 50 restaurants would you most like to visit?

World food photography award winners announced

Noodle Making

If you agree that the next best thing to reading cookbooks is looking at gorgeous food photographs, you will want to view the winners of the annual Pink Lady Food Photographer competition. This year's overall winner was Tessa Bunney (of the UK/Lao PDR) for her photograph, Noodle Making (pictured above). The picture also won the Philip Harben Award for the "Food in Action" category. The judges praised the image for "its beautiful composition, the expression of utter absorption on its subject's face, and the capture of a perfect moment in time as the noodle dough flies through the air." Other winners include Louise Lister (Australia) for a stunning photo of a spanner crab, David Thompson (UK) for a photo depicting the making of Jian Bao (dumplings), and Manuela Ruther (Germany) for a striking photo of a cabbage.

In addition to the slideshow linked above, you can view the winners by watching a BBC video with commentary by food critic and competition judge Jay Rayner.

Photo courtesy The Telegraph

The Fat Duck flies south

The Fat Duck

Restaurants open, close, and change locations every day. Usually it's only noteworthy to the people in the local area. However, when the restaurant in question is Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck, and when the move is not across town but across the globe, people pay attention.

As reported in The Guardian, the restaurant, including its staff, will travel to Melbourne this December and open in February at the five-star Crown Towers hotel. After six months, The Fat Duck will return to England, and the Melbourne venue "will be used for Dinner, to be opened under the supervision of long-time Blumenthal sidekick Ashley Palmer-Watts, who heads the London kitchen." The move will allow renovations to proceed in the 17th-century building in Bray currently housing The Fat Duck.

Those of us in the U.S. will have to make do with Chef Blumenthal's cookbooks, many of which grace the bookshelves of EYB members. His most recent effort, Historic Heston, was both an EYB pick for 2013 and has been nominated for a James Beard Foundation book award. Heston Blumenthal at Home is the most popular of his cookbooks amongst EYB members, and several of its recipes have been rated with five stars. If you have a favorite Blumenthal recipe or technique, we'd like to hear about it.

 

Photo courtesy of The Guardian

James Beard Foundation announces book award nominees

JBF nominees

Awards season is now in full swing, as the James Beard Foundation Book Award nominees were announced on March 18 (you can view the complete 2014 list here.) If you compare the James Beard nominees to the IACP nominees, there is not a lot of overlap. Overall, the James Beard Foundation list is more traditional than the IACP list - no self-published books were nominated for a James Beard award.

Another phenomenon indicated by the divergent lists is the large number of quality cookbooks being published. The resurgence in the cookbook industry in the past decade or so is undeniable, with television shows spurring a renewed interest in cooking and the internet making formely obscure ingredients easily obtainable (if not inexpensive). Therefore the differences in the nominations are not surprising given the number of interesting, well-written, and informative cookbooks.

Some of this year's James Beard nominees may want history to repeat itself. Last year Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish won the Baking category for both IACP and James Beard. This year, the IACP baking winner, The Art of French Pastry, is also nominated for a James Beard award. Provence, 1970 may also be hoping for déjà vu, because Marcus Samuelsson swept both 2013 awards for food writing for Yes, Chef.

Other cookbooks can't hope for a sweep. Although I Love New York was nominated for both awards, it didn't win the IACP award so it will not be a double winner. Other books that made both lists include Gluten Free Girl, Vegetable Literacy, Sauces and Shapes, The Drunken Botanist, and In the Charcuterie.

Noteworthy nominees that didn't make the IACP list include Historic Heston by Heston Blumenthal, Every Grain of Rice by Fuschia Dunlop, One Good Dish by David Tanis, and A Work in Progress by René Redzepi.

Do you concur with the James Beard Foundation nominees? Did your favorites make the list?

IACP announces cookbook award winners

IACP winners

The IACP, at its annual conference held this year in Chicago, announced the winners of its 2014 cookbook awards. Stone Edge Farm Cookbook, a self-published cookbook from the vineyard/farm of the same name, took top honors as Book of the Year and also won the Julia Child Award for first cookbook. While The A.O.C. Cookbook may have been defeated in The Piglet (the final round in that competition pits The New Persian Kitchen against Roberta's Cookbook), it managed to snag the IACP Restaurant Cookbook title.

In addition to this year's winning cookbooks, the IACP presented a Lifetime Achievement award to food scientist and author Shirley Corriher. The following five books garnered Culinary Classics Awards, essentially entering the "Cookbook Hall of Fame."  These venerable tomes inspired countless cooks and grace thousands of EYB members' bookshelves:

The Art of Mexican Cooking by Diana Kennedy (Clarkson Potter, 1989)
Invitation to Indian Cookery Madhur Jaffrey (Knopf, 1973)
Betty Crocker's Cookbook (Originally Betty Crocker's Picture Book) by Betty Crocker (1950)
The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed, 1977)
The Silver Palate Cookbook
by Julee Rosso and Shelia Lukins (Workman, 1982)

If you want to "test drive" this year's winning books, EYB has indexed online recipes for several of the winners, including the The A.O.C. Cookbook, Single Ingredient winner Mast Brothers Chocolate, American cookbook winner The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen, General cookbook winner Keepers and Health and Special Diet winner Vegetable Literacy.   In addition, the  E-Cookbook winner,  The Journey  has links to all 40 recipes online (if you are a subscriber), and for this week has opened the recipes to be viewed by everyone, subscriber or not.

To view all of the nominees and winners, visit the EYB IACP Awards page.

Making the Grade

Restaurant grade

Last week we learned that fabled New York City restaurant Per Se received a large number of violations during its latest health inspection. This resulted in a "grade pending" while the restaurant appeals the report. (Some news outlets inaccurately reported the restaurant had received a "C" grade.)

When diners see a bad restaurant "report card," they may think of rats in the walk-ins, rotting food, or something even worse. But sometimes violations that earn a "critical" score are not as terrible as one might expect. For instance, not having a lid on an open drink in the kitchen often receives the same number of demerits as not storing food at the correct temperature. Even food storage temperatures can be subject to interpretation. Some health codes haven't caught up to sous vide methods, so even though it may be perfectly safe to cook food (if done for the right amount of time and with the proper materials) at a "danger zone" temperature, the restaurant will be penalized for doing so.

It is probably not surprising to anyone that when the health inspector isn't around to watch, egregious violations can occur. My husband used to work on refrigeration and ventilation systems in restaurants and witnessed several unsavory incidents involving rodents (both alive and dead) and moldy food stored on wet walk-in floors. Yet the restaurants in which these stomach-turning situations occurred nonetheless had passing, if not exemplary, scores come inspection time. (If you are keeping tally, my husband says that by far the cleanest eateries in which he worked were franchises where the logo has arches.)

I have my own criteria for deciding if I will eat at a restaurant. Are the bathrooms clean? Check. Are the tables and floors clean? Check. Do the servers appear to be well-groomed and interested in their duties? Check. Do I see a cockroach. No check! Is the serving wiping his nose and then reaching into the ice bin? Walk out the door. Did I see someone wiping the floor and then the counter with the same cloth? Run away!

I find it difficult to imagine that the average diner would find anything off-putting in the pristine kitchen of a Thomas Keller restaurant. I would eat at Per Se in a heartbeat, regardless of its latest grade (it had zero violations in a previous inspection). How much attention do you pay to a restaurant's health score? Do you find the grading system in your area to be adequate?

 

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